1810 - 1849

FRYDERYK CHOPIN

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

‘I have my manuscripts in order, well scored’

The most outstanding Polish composer and pianist, born in Żelazowa Wola on 1 March 1810 in an annexe of the manor house belonging to Count and Countess Skarbek, where his father Mikołaj [Nicolas] Chopin, a ‘Polonised’ Frenchman, was tutor to the Skarbeks’ children. Fryderyk was the second of four children born to Mikołaj and (Tekla) Justyna, née Krzyżanowska. He had three sisters: Ludwika, Izabela and Emilia, who died aged fourteen. In 1810, the family moved to Warsaw, where the composer’s father received a teaching post at the Warsaw Lyceum.

Fryderyk began regular piano lessons at the age of six with the Czech immigrant Wojciech Żywny and started composing soon afterwards. He gave numerous performances in the salons of the Warsaw aristocracy, and his musical talent bloomed incredibly quickly: in 1822, Żywny stated that he could not develop his pupil’s skills any further, and Chopin began taking lessons with the most outstanding teachers living in Warsaw at that time: composition with Józef Elsner; piano and organ with the influential virtuoso Wilhelm Wacław Würfel.

Fryderyk gained an all-round education at the Warsaw Lyceum, which he attended from 1823. During that period, he regularly spent his summer holidays outside Warsaw, most often on the estates of his friends’ families. Trips to Szafarnia, Sanniki, Poturzyn, Duszniki, Toruń, Gdańsk, Płock and other places in Greater Poland, Pomerania and Silesia enabled the teenage Chopin to get to know the treasures of Polish culture and folk music, which he would remember till the end of his life.

In 1826, he entered the Main School of Music attached to Warsaw University. He left three years later with the opinion: ‘special ability, musical genius’. At that time, he wrote his first serious compositions: the Sonata in C minor, the Fantasy on Polish Airs and his breakthrough work, the Variations, Op. 2 on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.

In 1829, Chopin made his first journey to Vienna, which proved a roaring success. Not only did he arouse the enthusiasm of the Viennese public, but following the issue of his Mozart variations by a Viennese publisher he also received an enthusiastic review from Schumann (ending with the famous quip: ‘Hats off gentlemen! We have a genius’). In the wake of that success, within a short space of time, he wrote his two piano concertos, numbered among the masterworks of the genre, and planned a return trip to Vienna, counting on organising a tour of Italy.

However, just a week after crossing the border, in the musical capital of Europe, he received news of the outbreak of the November Uprising back home against the Russian occupier. In the role of a political émigré, with no chance of organising serious concerts in Austria, in July 1831 he travelled through Germany to Paris. Along the way, in Stuttgart, news of the defeat of the insurrection ultimately induced him – following a nervous breakdown – to set off for ‘another world’. He would never return to Poland.

The first months in Paris were not easy, but by the end of February 1832, at the Salle Pleyel, he was presenting his talents to the elite of the musical world, led by Ferenc Liszt and François-Joseph Fétis. As one of his friends related: ‘He killed all the local pianists dead; the whole of Paris is dumbfounded’. Numerous requests for piano lessons were immediately forthcoming from bourgeois and aristocratic circles, and that, besides the publication of his works, was his main source of income.

‘I am sitting down to this letter for the 4th time, today, 15 April, and I don’t know whether I will finish it yet, because I have to go to Scheffer today to pose for my portrait, and give 5 lessons.

[…] Again, the letter has been interrupted — a day has passed. And so, I was at Scheffer’s yesterday, and from there I visited Delacroix, but for that I had fewer lessons. I didn’t feel like dressing for dinner, and I spent the evening playing at home, humming songs from back home on the Vistula. I awoke today at 7; my student Gutmann came to remind me not to forget his soirée today […].

I will end now. I have to give a lesson to the young lady Rothschild, then a certain woman from Marseille, then an English woman, then a Swedish woman, and, at 5, receive a certain family from New Orleans, who have an introduction from Pleyel. Then to dinner at the Perthuises, and then to sleep, if possible. I embrace you.’

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, My Dearest Loved Ones, If one doesn’t respond at once…, [Paris], letter begun a week before Easter [28 March], finished 19 April [1847]

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, My Dearest Loved Ones, If one doesn’t respond at once…, [Paris], letter begun a week before Easter [28 March], finished 19 April [1847], MC/232

‘Received from Mr Maurice Schlesinger the sum of 900 fr (nine hundred francs) for the works Opp. 52, 53 and 54, for which I have ceded to him ownership for France. F. Chopin. Paris. 15 Nov.[ember] 1843’.

Fryderyk Chopin, Declaration of the sale to the publisher Maurice Schlesinger of the publishing rights for France to the Ballade in F minor, Op. 52, Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 and Scherzo in E major, Op. 54, 15 November 1843

Fryderyk Chopin, Declaration of the sale to the publisher Maurice Schlesinger of the publishing rights for France to the Ballade in F minor, Op. 52, Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 and Scherzo in E major, Op. 54, 15 November 1843, MC/418

After his public success, Chopin at once found himself among the most outstanding artists of his day. He became friends with Liszt, Berlioz, Hiller, Heine, Mickiewicz, Delacroix and many others. He frequented the most important salons of the capital and after some time was able to abandon large public concerts in favour of playing in front of a small group of friends. He made contacts among the Polish Great Emigration, befriending Prince Adam Czartoryski and Delfina Potocka.

‘Chopinetto mio, we’re having a fete, at our home, in Montmartre, rue St Denis No 10, I hope that Hiller, Liszt and Devigny will be accompagnés de Chopin. Incredible folly. Too bad. H. B.’

Hector Berlioz to Fryderyk Chopin, Chopinetto mio…, [Paris, before 5 May 1834], letter from the collection of Leopold Binental, lost

Hector Berlioz to Fryderyk Chopin, Chopinetto mio…, [Paris, before 5 May 1834], letter from the collection of Leopold Binental, lost

‘And I regret that you can’t be with us and Delacroix at the Conservatory this evening to hear Haydn’s Creation of the World. This will be only the second concert we’ve attended this year – the day before yesterday’s was our first with Mozart’s Requiem’.

Fryderyk Chopin to Stefan Witwicki, My Dearest Life, I miss you here this summer very much…, Paris, Easter, [23 March] 1845

Fryderyk Chopin to Stefan Witwicki, My Dearest Life, I miss you here this summer very much…, Paris, Easter, [23 March] 1845, M/213

‘My friends came one morning and told me that I had to give a concert, that I shouldn’t worry, just sit down and play. The tickets sold out a week ago, and the tickets are all for 20 fr. The public is signing up for a second concert (which I have no intention of giving). The court has requested 40 tickets, and in the newspapers they only wrote that I might give a concert, and they wrote from Brest and from Nantes to my publisher, to order places. I am surprised by such empressement, and I have to play today, if only for the sake of my conscience, because it seems to me that I play worse than before. I will play (for the sake of curiosity) a Mozart Trio with Franchomme and Alard. There won’t be any posters or tickets for free’.

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, My Most Beloved Ones, I haven’t written to you in a long time…, [Paris], 11 February 1848

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, My Most Beloved Ones, I haven’t written to you in a long time…, [Paris], 11 February 1848, MC/235

At the height of his success in Paris, Chopin attempted to stabilise his personal life. In 1835, he grew closer to the Wodziński family of Służewo; a year later, he proposed to Maria Wodzińska and was accepted. Ultimately, however, the marriage did not come about, and the circumstances surrounding the fiasco of his matrimonial plans remain unclear today. But in 1836 he met the French writer George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), who was to alter his life forever.

‘I am in Palma, among the palms, cedars, cactuses, olive trees, orange trees, aloes, fig trees, pomegranates, etc. Everything the Jardin des Plantes has in its hothouses. The sky is like turquoise, the sea like azure, the mountains like emeralds, the air, the air like in heaven. Sun in the daytime, everyone walking around in summer clothing, and it is hot; at night, guitars and singing for hours on end. Huge balconies with grape-vines overhead; Moorish walls. Everything, just like the city itself, looks toward Africa. In a word, a most marvellous life. […] Call on Pleyel, because the piano hasn’t arrived yet. By what route did they send it?’

Fryderyk Chopin to Julian Fontana, My Dear! I am in Palma, among the palms…, Palma, 15 November 1838

Fryderyk Chopin to Julian Fontana, My Dear! I am in Palma, among the palms…, Palma, 15 November 1838, M/237

‘I was sick like a dog for the last two weeks: I caught cold in spite of 18 degree temperatures, roses, oranges, palms and fig trees. The 3 most renowned doctors from the entire island: one of them smelled what I spat, the other tapped where I had spat from, the third probed and listened to how I spat. One said that I had croaked, the second that I was croaking, the third that I would croak. […] I was barely able to keep them from bleeding me […]. Except that this has a bearing on the Preludes, which you will receive God knows when. In a few days, I will be living in the most beautiful surroundings in the world: sea, mountains, whatever you wish. […] I’ll be living in an old, gigantic, abandoned, ruined monastery of the Carthusians, whom Mend[izabel] expelled as if for me. Near Palma, there is nothing more marvellous: galleries, the most poetic cemeteries, in a word, I’ll feel well there. Only, I still don’t have a piano. I wrote to Pleyel, just rue de Rochechouard. Find out… […] Don’t tell people that I’ve been sick, because they’ll make up a fable’.

Fryderyk Chopin to Julian Fontana, My Julian! Don’t allow my apartment congé, Palma, 3 December 1838, letter from the collection of Karol Lilpop, lost

The relationship between Chopin and George Sand lasted until 1847, barely two years before the composer’s death. Over that period, he wrote some of his most outstanding compositions, and the six successive summers that he spent on George Sand’s summer estate of Nohant were undoubtedly among his happiest moments since his departure from Poland.

‘Well, we’ve made it after a week’s journey. We arrived in wonderful fashion. The village is beautiful; nightingales, skylarks – only you, Our Bird, are missing.’

Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand to Wojciech Grzymała, My Dear! Well, we’ve made it after a week’s journey…, [Nohant], 2 June 1839

Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand to Wojciech Grzymała, My Dear! Well, we’ve made it after a week’s journey…, [Nohant], 2 June 1839, M/3135

‘My Life! Take the malle-post as far as Châteauroux: you’ll get there at noon the next day; from there it is 2 ½ hours by the stagecoach that goes to La Châtre: you’ll alight by the garden, which the road goes around. You’ll sit down to the table, once you’ve embraced us properly, etc., etc., etc. I know how difficult it is for you to leave Paris, and in spite of all my desire to see you and to rejoice in your presence, I don’t dare to insist […]’.

‘You really must come, dear friend. We need to see you. Your little one is still out of sorts. Personally, I think that he could do with a little less calm, solitude and regularity than life at Nohant. Who knows? Perhaps a little trip to Paris. I’m prepared to make any sacrifice rather than see him consume himself in melancholy. Come and take the pulse of his morale. Who can grasp the borderline between physical ailment and intellectual languor?’

Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand to Wojciech Grzymała, My Dear! Take the malle-post as far as Châteauroux: you’ll get there at noon the next day…, [Nohant, 8 July 1839]

Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand to Wojciech Grzymała, My Dear! Take the malle-post as far as Châteauroux: you’ll get there at noon the next day…, [Nohant, 8 July 1839], D/244

‘I am always one foot with you – one foot in the room next door – where the Lady of the House works – and not at all in my own place at that moment – only, as usual, in some strange space. Those are no doubt those espaces imaginaires – but I’m not ashamed of this; after all, it has become a proverb for us that ‘he went to the coronation in his imagination’, and I’m a genuine blind Mazovian. And so, not seeing far, I have written 3 new Mazurkas [Op. 59]’.

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, My Dearest Ones, We have already been here for more than a month…, [Nohant, 18–20 July 1845]

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, My Dearest Ones, We have already been here for more than a month…, [Nohant, 18–20 July 1845], M/506

After splitting with George Sand, the seriously ill Chopin gave his last concert in Paris, in 1848, before embarking on a long journey to Great Britain, at the urging of his pupil Jane Stirling. It was there, despite his feeble condition, that he gave his last public performance, in a concert in aid of Polish exiles, on 16 November 1848, at the Guildhall in London.

‘I’m suffocating more now than a month ago in the beautiful land of Walter Scott. The queen left Aberdeenshire just yesterday. The whole of England came to Scotland this year, as much to pay court to H. R. H. as on account of there not being a single quiet spot on the Continent. The area where I’m staying at the moment is called Keir, in Perthshire, near Stirling. Tomorrow, I’m going to Edinburgh, where I’ll be staying for a few days; I might even perform there. Do not imagine, however, that this brings, apart from the occupation, anything other than impatience and despondency’.

Fryderyk Chopin to Marie de Rozières, I thank you very much for your kind letters..., Keir, Perthshire, 2 October 1848

Fryderyk Chopin to Marie de Rozières, I thank you very much for your kind letters..., Keir, Perthshire, 2 October 1848, M/211/1-2

‘In the meantime, where has my art gone to? And where have I wasted my heart? I barely remember still how they sing back home. This world is somehow passing me by. I forget, I have no strength; …if I rise up a bit, then I fall all the lower.’

Fryderyk Chopin to Wojciech Grzymała, My dearest Life! Have you forgotten…, Edinburgh, 30 October [1848]

Fryderyk Chopin to Wojciech Grzymała, My dearest Life! Have you forgotten…, Edinburgh, 30 October [1848], D/449

‘The weather is lovely today. I am sitting in my drawing-room and admiring the view over the whole of Paris: the tower, the Tuileries, the Chamber, St Germ[ain], l’Aux.[errois], St Etienne du Mont, Notre-Dame, the Pantheon, St Sulpice, Val-de Grâce, the Invalides, from 5 windows, and nothing but gardens between us. You will see it when you come. Now set about getting a passport and money, quickly and with determination. Write me a line at once. After all, everyone has their whims: my whim today is to see you here.’

Fryderyk Chopin to Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, My Life, If any of you can, please come…, [Chaillot], Monday, 25 June 1849

Fryderyk Chopin to Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, My Life, If any of you can, please come…, [Chaillot], Monday, 25 June 1849, M/2631

On his return to Paris, Chopin spent the last months of his life under the care of his sister Ludwika. He died on 17 October 1849 at 2 a.m. His body lies in Paris; his heart was brought back to Poland.


‘Mr F. Chopin, the celebrated pianist, succumbed this morning to the chest complaint that had afflicted him for a long time. Mr Chopin was only 39 years of age. It is an immense loss for the musical art, which he cultivated with religion and of which he was one of the most distinguished pillars.’

Le National, 1849

OEUVRE

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Fryderyk Chopin’s oeuvre is focussed primarily on piano music. Compared to other composers of that period, he was distinguished not just by his highly individual treatment of the elements of the musical work (melody, harmony, rhythm, metre), but especially by his original approach to nineteenth-century musical genres. Chopin juxtaposed and combined such opposites as innovation and the continuation of the Classical tradition, a universal outlook and an attachment to his native Polish culture. At first, he turned to popular Classical genres and dances, such as the polonaise, mazurka, variations, rondo and concerto, but with time he came to concentrate either on redefining existing genres (sonata, prelude, nocturne and scherzo) or on establishing new musical genres, such as the ballade, fantasy and barcarolle.

The essence of Chopin’s music was improvisation. He improvised a great deal in the salons before a small audience, writing down just a few of the ideas that arose at such soirées.

His creative process was characterised by a similar spontaneity: Chopin composed at the piano, repeatedly altering and polishing even works that had already been published. Ultimately, thanks to a remarkable synthesis of creative invention, reference to tradition (a Classical sense of beauty and proportion, national elements) and almost revolutionary innovativeness (harmonies that shocked his contemporaries, bold collisions between genres, exploding form by focussing on motif), Chopin influenced the whole perception of piano music during the nineteenth century, and his unique style set him among the most highly esteemed and most distinctive composers of all time.

‘I return to Chopin’s music very often, playing it for myself or listening to its recordings from disc. I cannot imagine the possibility of living without his music. For me, it is like the air, like water, which it is impossible to live without.’
Witold Lutosławski (1913–1994)

Chopinspira. Współcześni kompozytorzy polscy o Chopinie [Chopinspire. Contemporary Polish composers on Chopin] (Warsaw, 2009)

‘Music written in his everyday labours. He would correct and alter even finished compositions; he couldn’t stop. He wanted to find the most perfect form. How close to my own mind. How well I understand it!’
Tadeusz Wielecki (b. 1954)

Chopinspira. Współcześni kompozytorzy polscy o Chopinie [Chopinspire. Contemporary Polish composers on Chopin] (Warsaw, 2009)

‘Chopin’s rubato – suspension, sighing in music; an idiom and one of the greatest mysteries of the composer’s style. Almost two hundred years later, I look upon it with respect and admiration, although I realise that this look is from a long way away. That music will never and cannot be like it was. Although people have stayed the same, experiencing similar emotions, their lives proceed many times faster. Nowadays, there is often no time to reflect, to consider; we experience our emotions in haste, nervously, thronged by successive events. The idea of rubato has gone.’
Marcin Stańczyk (b. 1977)

Książka programowa MFMW ‘Warszawska Jesień’ [Programme book of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music] (Warsaw, 2014)

ETUDES
‘His etudes for piano are masterpieces’ Hector Berlioz, 1849

Before Chopin, the etude (usually called ‘exercise’) served primarily to improve technical proficiency, although compositions with greater musical ambitions did occasionally appear (e.g. those of Maria Szymanowska). Chopin’s twenty-four Etudes, contained in cohesively composed cycles of twelve pieces, opuses 10 and 25, and the Trois nouvelles études, form a new chapter in our understanding of the genre and at the same time its most perfect exemplification.

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Etude in G flat major, Op. 10 No. 5 (1829–1832?), autograph Stichvorlage for the German publisher (Breitkopf & Härtel), M/193

Etude in G flat major, Op. 10 No. 5, perf. Tatiana Shebanova (Erard piano,1849)

Each of Chopin’s Etudes concentrates on a selected technical problem, such as passagework, black-key, chromatic and double runs, octaves, arpeggiated chords, leaps and realising two musical planes with one hand. These compositions are technically extremely difficult; above all, however, they demand artistically mature interpretation, since the pianistic difficulties are not an end in themselves, but serve to achieve refined musical effects. The resultant level of expression and drama, and at the same time subtlety and cantilena, mean that Chopin’s Etudes take the art of piano to the limits of physical capabilities, whilst at the same time attaining the depth of musical poems.

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Etude in E flat minor, Op. 10 No. 6 (1829–1832?), autograph Stichvorlage for the German publisher (Breitkopf & Härtel), M/194

Etude in E flat minor, Op. 10 No. 6, perf. Tatiana Shebanova (Erard piano, 1849)
SCHERZOS
‘How should gravity array itself when jest is already darkly robed?’ Robert Schumann

‘in the salon I pretend to be calm, but once I get home, I thunder away on the piano’, wrote Chopin on 26 December 1830 from Vienna, while the November Uprising was continuing in Warsaw. Although there is no proof to that effect, there are commentators who assert that these words concern the outline of the Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20. In the tradition of the scherzo, which in Italian means ‘joke’, only in some of Beethoven’s realisations did it assume anguished, even demonic expression. Chopin adopted that model, isolated the scherzo from the sonata cycle, transformed it into an elaborate, self-contained, one-movement work and lent it a touch of tragedy. In Chopin’s works, an unbridled Romantic intensity of experience in the outer sections, contained within the sweeping gesture of ‘thundering away on the piano’, contrasts with a deeply moving lyrical middle section. In the Scherzo in B minor, he quotes the Polish carol-lullaby ‘Lulajże Jezuniu’ [Hush, little Jesus], which brings – albeit for only a moment – a soothing nostalgia.

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Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20 (1834) (pub. 1835), pub. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, [1835], first German edition, 4049/n

Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20, perf. Dina Yoffe (Pleyel piano, 1848)
BALLADES
‘Chopin’s new Ballade has appeared’ Robert Schumann, 1840

Despite the lack of information from Chopin himself that he drew on external literary programmes, his ballades were interpreted already by his contemporaries within the context of poetical works by the great Romantics, such as Mickiewicz and Heine. The composer gave a hint when adding in the first edition of his first Ballade (in G minor) the designation ‘without words’. These works establish an entirely new, purely instrumental musical genre, created by Chopin, referring to one of the oldest European musical traditions, rooted in the Middle Ages. Chopin’s ballades correspond in their purport to the Romantic aesthetic of expression, and they are among the best examples of purely instrumental musical narration. They are all based on a pulsating iambic 6/8 or 6/4 metre. Although of free design, proceeding towards an ultimate climax towards the end of the composition, through the contrasting of characters and keys of themes, they refer to the archetype of sonata form, albeit transformed in a different way each time. The Ballade in F minor, Op. 52, the last work in the cycle, combines the dualism of the principal themes with variation and quasi-polyphonic technique, characteristic of the late period in the composer’s oeuvre.

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Ballade in F minor, Op. 52 (1842–1843) (pub. 1843), pub. Maurice Schlesinger, Paris, 1843, first French edition, M/176

Ballade in F minor, Op. 52, perf. Nelson Goerner (Pleyel piano, 1848)
SONGS

Chopin’s nineteen extant songs for voice and piano represent a commentary on contemporary events. They formed a bridge between exile and home, where they were widely sung and distributed in unofficial editions. Hugely popular were the love lyrics composed to words by the poets Stefan Witwicki and Adam Mickiewicz. The song ‘Wojak’ [Before the battle], to words by Witwicki, was composed within the context of Chopin’s departure from his homeland and the looming tragic events bringing the November Uprising to an end. He wrote it on 21 June 18[31?] in Vienna and sent it as a gift to his sister Ludwika in Warsaw.

Chopin, keenly interested in Polish poetry, composed his songs solely to words by Polish poets of his own generation. They were occasional compositions, on the margins of his oeuvre, not included on the programmes of his official concerts and not published during his lifetime. Collected together by Julian Fontana, they were published in the posthumous opus 74.

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The song ‘Wojak’ [Before the battle] for voice and piano to words by Stefan Witwicki, [Op. 74 No. 10] (1830–1831), 21 June 18[31?], presentation autograph of the whole of the work, M/2632

The song ‘Wojak’ [Before the battle] for voice and piano to words by Stefan Witwicki, [Op. 74 No. 10], perf. Aleksandra Kurzak (soprano), Mariusz Kwiecień (baritone), Nelson Goerner (Pleyel piano, 1848)
FANTASY in F minor
‘I finished the Fantasy today — and the sky is beautiful, my heart is sad — but it doesn’t matter. If it were otherwise, perhaps my existence would be of no use to anyone. Let’s hide away till after death.’ Fryderyk Chopin, 1841

Improvisation – ‘fantasising’ – is an idiom of musical thinking that is present in Chopin’s oeuvre in manifold ways. It was an inseparable attribute of performances by virtuoso pianists in those times. In his first public concerts, Chopin would develop musical themes put forward by the audience. Yet the moments which were particularly keenly anticipated were his free improvisations within a small group of friends. Improvisation was also a constant, albeit elusive, part of the composer’s creative work.

Works defined as fantasies were common in Chopin’s day. In his oeuvre, they are present in two forms: the youthful Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13, adhering to the ‘potpourri’ model that was popular during the brilliant period, and the mature one-movement works that formally combined features of sonata form, variation set and sonata cycle, as realised in the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 and the Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61. That latter model invokes Chopin’s improvisations based on the juxtaposing of contrasting passages linked by common musical motifs and by the composition’s meticulously planned dramatic structure, in its climaxes and moments of relief. The Fantasy in F minor, of a march-like character in many of its themes, refers to Polish national songs which Chopin knew and on the themes of which he frequently improvised. It includes distant allusions to an insurrectionary song written by Karol Kurpiński in 1831, which was widely sung by Poles in exile.

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Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 (1841) (pub. 1841), pub. Maurice Schlesinger, Paris, 1841, first French edition, M/176

Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49, perf. Ka Ling Colleen Lee (Pleyel piano, 1848)
POLONAISES

The Polonaise in G minor was composed when Chopin was just a young boy. It has a typical ternary design and shows features of the eighteenth-century salon polonaise, crystallised by Michał Kleofas Ogiński: a triple metre, characteristic rhythmic formulas and a dignified character. Although such works were essentially meant to be listened to within a noble, courtly environment, their even-paced rhythm enabled them to function also as dances. The Polonaise in G minor, with its delightful, unpretentious charms, is one of Chopin’s earliest works and the first that he had published in print. The polonaise is a genre which Chopin composed in throughout his life. When he passed from childhood into youth, he added virtuosic elements of the style brilliant. However, he published only the fully mature works, written in Paris, which redefined the significance of the genre. It was the polonaises, alongside the mazurkas, which were considered to emphasise most strongly Chopin’s patriotic attitude. The ‘Heroic’ Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, for instance, is widely recognised today as a symbol of Polishness. ____________________Polonaise in G minor (1817) (pub. 1817), pub. Izydor Józef Cybulski, Warsaw, [1817], M/375

Polonaise in G minor, perf. Marek Drewnowski (Pleyel piano, 1848)

An entirely separate work, meanwhile, regarded as key to the twilight period in the Chopin oeuvre, is the Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61. A search for individual compositional conventions led Chopin to forge an innovative form that eludes unequivocal interpretation. The manuscript bears the short musical ideas of this work, surrounded by numerous traces of ink, attesting that this served as a rough copy. ____________________Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major, Op. 61 (1845–1846), autograph sketch, M/1341

Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major, Op. 61, perf. Ka Ling Colleen Lee (Pleyel piano, 1848)
MAZURKAS
‘There are incredible details in his mazurkas; furthermore, he has found a way of making them doubly interesting, in executing them with the utmost softness, superlatively <i>piano</i>, the hammers just brushing the strings’. Hector Berlioz, 1833

The artistic mazurka is a stylisation of Polish folk dances: the rapid oberek, the moderate mazur and the slow-paced kujawiak. In Chopin’s mazurkas – apart from the last ‘dance poems’ – one clearly hears features of the prototypes, such as a triple metre, characteristic rhythmic patterns and shifting accentuation of the second or third beat in the bar. The composer also obtains a folk colouring through highly chromatic harmonies and flexible rhythms and tempos, linked to the rubato effect, which is particularly difficult to interpret in performance. Chopin did not employ quotations, yet folk elements were a source of his artistic inspiration, as in the early Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7 No. 3, written on 20 July 1831 in Vienna.

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Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7 No. 3 (1830–1831), Vienna, 20 July 1831, presentation autograph of the whole work, M/2160

Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7 No. 3, perf. Ewa Pobłocka (Pleyel piano, 1848)

The Mazurka in F minor [Op. 68 No. 4], meanwhile, is a distinguished example of attempts at reconstructing a work from sketches. According to tradition, this is Chopin’s last, incomplete work. However, stylistic analysis of the musical content and the type of paper used allow us to surmise that it was written in earlier years. It remains an open question as to why Chopin decided to abandon it.

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Mazurka in F minor [Op. 68 No. 4] (1845/1846? 1848? 1849?), autograph sketch of fragments of the work, M/235

Mazurka in F minor [Op. 68 No. 4], perf. Janusz Olejniczak (Erard piano, 1849)
WALTZES
‘Aristocratic from the first note to the last’. Robert Schumann

Chopin designated only eight waltzes for publication. They include both striking brilliant-type concert waltzes and others of a sentimental character. Also typical in Chopin’s times were functional waltzes for dancing, not present among those he had published. Waltzes were Chopin’s most frequent gifts, written into the albums of female friends, admirers and pupils. The Waltz in A flat major [Op. 69 No. 1], known as the ‘Farewell’, was given to Chopin’s fiancée, Maria Wodzińska. The album autographs of these works functioned in the unofficial sphere, and the Waltz in F minor published posthumously as Op. 70 No. 2 is known to us today in a few ‘private’ versions of that kind. There are at least four copies of this work prepared by Chopin with minor modifications. To the version presented on 10 December 1842 to the English pianist Caroline de Belleville-Oury, Chopin appended a letter, in which he requested that she keep this musical present just for herself, since he did not consider it worthy of public performance.

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Waltz in F minor [Op. 70 No. 2] (1841), Paris, 10 December 1842, presentation autograph of the whole work, MC/319

Waltz in F minor [Op. 70 No. 2], perf. Tatiana Shebanova (Erard piano, 1849)
NOCTURNES
‘The most exquisite and most singular art of Chopin […] I see it in that uninterruption of the phrase; in the imperceptible, imperfectible slipping from one melodic proposition to another’. André Gide, 1949

The nocturnes define the world of Chopin’s cantilena transferred to the piano from the vocal art of the Italian style of bel canto (beautiful song). The essence of this genre lies in the intimacy of the mood and the beauty of the lyrical utterance. The melodic line is adorned in the upper voice with embedded ornaments. The accompaniment is chordal or based on spread chords (modelled on the serenade).

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Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2 (1830–1831), pub. Maurice Schlesinger, Paris, [1833], first French edition, MC/307/1

Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2, perf. Dang Thai Son (Erard piano, 1849)

In Chopin’s times, the nocturnes were popular among the middle class and in aristocratic salons, and still today they are among the most readily performed works by Chopin. In his own interpretations, Chopin often added improvised embellishments, not notated in the published version of the work, and employed rubato. The scores which he used during lessons bear his notes on fingering and performance variants, such as the cadenza written out in the Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2. The Nocturne in F sharp minor from opus 48, meanwhile, has come down to us in the form of an engraver’s manuscript produced from the autograph by Chopin’s friend and trusted copyist of his works, Julian Fontana.

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Nocturne in F sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2 (1841), Stichvorlage copy made by Julian Fontana for the German publisher (Breitkopf & Härtel), title page in the hand of Fryderyk Chopin, M/200

Nocturne in F sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2, perf. Wojciech Świtała (Pleyel piano, 1848)
FANTASY-IMPROMPTU

The Impromptu in C sharp minor is of the type of a self-contained piano work with a ternary ABA form, the outer sections adhering to virtuosic style. It was composed for Baroness d’Est, a music lover and owner of a magnificent album, which reflected her musical and artistic interests. It contains entries made by esteemed composers of piano music, Ferdinand Hiller and Ignaz Moscheles, and of operatic music, Luigi Cherubini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gioachino Rossini, and also by singers from the Théâtre Italien in Paris. In 1835, Chopin wrote into the baroness’s album a musical work in the form of what was virtually a clean manuscript. He did not give it a title, and he did not have it published. Issued posthumously by Julian Fontana as the Fantasy-Impromptu [Op. 66], it is the earliest of the four impromptus composed by Chopin.

The importance of Chopin’s relations with Mrs d’Est is attested by the fact that in 1835, when the composer withdrew from public concert life in favour of composition, teaching work and private performances, he gave only two public concerts in Paris. In the first, at the Théâtre Italien, he performed one of his piano concertos (probably the E minor, Op. 11); in the second, he played the Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise brillante, Op. 22, dedicated to Baroness d’Est.

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Impromptu in C sharp minor [Op. 66] (1833–1834), Paris, Friday, 1835, presentation autograph of the whole work, MC/93

Fantasy-Impromptu in C sharp minor [NE 46], perf. Akiko Ebi (Erard piano, 1838)
BERCEUSE
‘the cradle-song to discourage any one from attempting to write another.’ Arthur Hedley

The summer sojourns at Nohant, which for Chopin were periods of respite from the hustle and bustle of Paris and the pressure of his lessons, were particularly conducive to creative work. It was there that he wrote his most brilliant compositions, including the Berceuse (Lullaby). This work was originally titled Variantes, since the four-bar figure it contains is elaborated in a dozen or so consecutive variants. They are given a constant basso ostinato accompaniment, which creates a uniform tonal and harmonic colouring. The concept for this work is revealed by the autograph sketch, in which Chopin numbers the successive variants of the musical motif. The whole work acquires a fluent, lyrical character, in a pianissimo dynamic. Chopin must have been particularly pleased with the Berceuse, since he often included it on the programme of the concerts he gave in Great Britain.

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Berceuse, Op. 57 (1843?–1844), autograph sketch of fragments of the work, M/2165

Berceuse, Op. 57, perf. Tatiana Shebanova (Erard piano, 1849)
SONATAS

Chopin’s sonatas derive from a musical genre developed during the Classical era – a cyclic work of four-movement design, which the composer treats in a thoroughly individual and Romantic way. The sonatas were treated by reviewers of Chopin’s day with greater circumspection than the lyrical and dance works. They surprised observers with the innovation of their musical form; they were regarded as incoherent and too far removed from the Classical prototype. The epoch-making significance of these works was only appreciated by posterity. The timeless expression that Chopin imparted to the third movement of the Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35 (Marche funèbre) meant that in the general awareness it acquired the status of an almost independent work. With time, its function of bringing the design of the work to a climax ceased to shock, instead arousing universal admiration. The Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 is perceived as a synthesis of the mature period in the composer’s oeuvre.

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Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 (1844), autograph sketch of part of the work, M/234

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, Allegro maestoso, perf. Howard Shelley (Erard piano, 1849)

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 (1844), autograph sketch of part of the work, M/234

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, Scherzo. Molto vivace, perf. Howard Shelley (Erard piano, 1849)

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 (1844), autograph sketch of part of the work, M/234

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, Largo, perf. Howard Shelley (Erard piano, 1849)

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 (1844), autograph sketch of part of the work, M/234

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, Finale. Presto non tanto, perf. Howard Shelley (Erard piano, 1849)
CHAMBER WORKS

The Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8 is a chamber work written towards the end of Chopin’s composition studies with Józef Elsner in Warsaw, but only printed in Paris. It represents an essay in compositional craftsmanship on the part of the young composer, in the areas of both form and instrumentation.

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Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8 (1829), movement 1: Allegro con fuoco, official autograph of the whole of the work, M/1

Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8, Allegro con fuoco, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

The Trio in G minor stands at the opposite pole to the Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, the last work published during the composer’s lifetime, as his opus 65. It exemplifies the early efforts and experiments that heralded the ‘special musical ability’ perceived by Elsner in his pupil, to whom he had no hesitation in ascribing ‘musical genius’. It is significant that Chopin did not abandon this youthful work and performed it in Paris in later years.

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Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8 (1829), movement 1: Allegro con fuoco, official autograph of the whole of the work, M/1

Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8, Scherzo. Con moto ma non troppo, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8 (1829), movement 1: Allegro con fuoco, official autograph of the whole of the work, M/1

Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8, Adagio sostenuto, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8 (1829), movement 1: Allegro con fuoco, official autograph of the whole of the work, M/1

Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, Op. 8, Finale. Allegretto, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65 (1846–1847 or 1845–1847?), movement IV: Finale, autograph sketch of part of the work, M/232

Sonata g-moll na fortepian i wiolonczelę op. 65, Allegro moderato, wyk. Jan Krzysztof Broja (fortepian Erard, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (wiolonczela), Jakub Jakowicz (skrzypce)

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65 (1846–1847 or 1845–1847?), movement IV: Finale, autograph sketch of part of the work, M/232

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65, Scherzo. Allegro con brio, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65 (1846–1847 or 1845–1847?), movement IV: Finale, autograph sketch of part of the work, M/232

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65, Largo, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65 (1846–1847 or 1845–1847?), movement IV: Finale, autograph sketch of part of the work, M/232

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 65, Finale. Allegro, perf. Jan Krzysztof Broja (Erard piano, 1849), Andrzej Bauer (cello), Jakub Jakowicz (violin)

‘I play a little, write a little. Now I am satisfied with my Cello Sonata [Op. 65], the next time not. I throw it into the corner, then I gather it up again. I have three new Mazurkas; I don’t think with the old holes [?], but time will be needed for sound judgment to be made. When one does something, it must seem good, because otherwise one would write nothing. It is only later that reflexion comes into play and rejects or accepts. Time is the best judge, and patience the most excellent teacher.’

Fryderyk Chopin to his family, Château de Nohant, at the little table next to the piano, Sunday, 11 October 1846

Credits: Story

Scenario: Magdalena Kulig
Design: Alina Rybacka-Gruszczyńska
Translation: John Comber
Translation of Fryderyk Chopin’s letters: from Polish, David Frick (ed. John Comber); from French, Italian, John Comber

Recordings taken from the series "The Real Chopin", released by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The museum objects presented here belong to the collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum at the Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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